Marie-Neika Obas Keeping Lady Empowering Through Heels, Dance Workshops and Choreography-Montréal

Posted By: Eric Smith In: Dance On: Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Marie talks soundly of her walk in life, following her calling to dance and raison d'être as co-founder of Lady.

How are things?

Things are good.  The weather was good and now it’s getting cold again.  But that’s the Montreal life around this time-it’s always cold.  We have some sunny days but even that’s kind of tricky because when you step outside its very cold.

So are you from Montréal?

Yes, born and raised in Montréal.

We happened to meet through the 33rd Annual IABD(International Association for Black in Dance) Festival in Toronto this year and it was my first time hearing about it.  How did you find out about it?

Honestly, it was my first time hearing about it this year as well.  I heard about it because I was involved with the Connectively Moving Our Dance through dance IMMERSION.  I presented a piece at their event and since they were in collaboration with IABD they sent me all the info so I could register and attend as well.  But I didn’t know about it before.  It was because of Connectively Moving Our Dance that I knew what all of this was about with the IABD.  And I thought the IABD event was annually out of Toronto as well-but I realized it’s a tour that IABD does every year, produced in a different city each time.

What is Connectively Moving Our Dance?

It’s by dance IMMERSION, a production by the black dance community in Toronto to showcase the work of innovating choreographers.  I had to send out a submission for a piece that I wanted to present as a choreographer for their showcase at Connectively Moving Our Dance and the audience was mainly presenters so they could have access to our work.

Did you dance as well?

I am a professional dancer as well as a choreographer-but for this presentation I was only the choreographer, and I selectively chose five black ladies to perform for my piece at the festival.

Were your dancers from Toronto or did you all come as a group?

So we all are from Montreal and came as a group to Toronto.  This was a piece I actually presented in 2019 in Montreal.  But when I submitted the piece this time it was a totally new vision, it had the same idea but the piece itself was completely changed for Connectively Moving Our Dance.  So it started with the 2019 version then I revamped it for the 2023 edition.

What was the idea for the dance performance piece?

It was called Phobia,  because every human being has their own phobia.  It could be something as simple as being scared of the water or like for some of the dancers, their phobia was seeing someone in their family dying in front of them.  So it addresses some deep stuff.  I know, it’s two extremes-from water and then death.   But for me, to do the parallel between having your own phobia-sometimes when you think about your phobia and being put in those situations it can drive you crazy.  You can literally go nuts, so the piece was presented in parallel with this sentiment and set in an asylum. 

In the asylum, you can have crazy people, so for those watching it was something to see-performed through dance.

Most people don’t understand how professional dancers use their art to communicate ideas like this.  How do you overcome this fact?

Absolutely.  The outside world of dance will just think dance is all about moving your face and performing moves and yes there is that, but there is so much to it as well.  For me, through the pieces that I choreograph, I want dance to be perceived as a message, not only just fun to watch but to get you thinking.

And for me, it’s really a process.  So even for the dancers I choreograph I don’t just throw a choreo routine at them, it’s a whole process they have to go through.  And when it’s a deep subject I like to go step by step.  For Phobia, everyone had to sit down and think about what is the definition of phobia to them because we might not have the same definition.  We asked what is it to you?  How does it make you feel inside?  And even afterward, when you are walking how does it make you feel outside?  Like, how are your hands?  Are they wet or are you crossing your arms?  Are you walking fast or are you walking slow?  So all those little things, when you’re doing these exercises, will come into the piece as authentic and the audience will be able to relate even more.

So it’s just those little things for me that make dance so beautiful.  Sometimes you don’t have the words to express something but the dance and the movements in your body will express what you actually feel.

So for me, dance is therapy, honestly. 

When you choreograph a performance like that, do you tell the audience before you start what the meaning of the performance will be or what it is supposed to communicate?

Well, it depends on the audience.  For this one, we had the chance to explain the meaning of the piece before we started or after we finished.  So I chose to do it before.  I didn’t want to give too much information before starting to keep them tapped in and intrigued.  And I was like put yourself in their shoes.   When you watch the piece pretend that you have to face your own phobia and explore how would it make you feel.  Then I finished by saying…Enjoy!  And everyone's mind was blown because they did not want to be put in that position of facing their own phobias during the performance.

When did you start dancing as the art to pursue?

I actually started very young because my mom was a dancer as well.  So she put me into dance starting with ballet.  My godmother is a dancer and owns her own studio.  So I had this familiar lifestyle, but I started very young first in ballet and then switched to hip hop.  My friends always encouraged me to try hip hop and I eventually made the switch when my ballet school closed.

In 2017 I made the initial jump to try and be a professional dancer because I knew this was my passion and I wanted to do this as my life.  So I started in 2017, and had some contracts here and there teaching, but then I soon realized that it’s a tough road having that type of career.  I had that 9-to-5 career but stopped to pursue dance full-time and it was much harder than I was anticipating when I left.  So I went back to the office job, in my field of study which was communications.  Then again in 2022, I decided to do the jump again as a full-time professional dancer, mainly because I had a well-rounded knowledge of what to expect this time and what I needed to do.  So it’s been almost a year now that I have been fully committed to my career as a dancer and it’s the only thing I breathe for now. 

In 2022, was that when you, Mikaèle Alexandre and Denica Videva started Lady?

Lady Company we actually started in 2020, during the pandemic.  I was giving heel classes here and there on Zoom, in place of going to the studios and during then that’s when I realized how much I loved doing this.  I was always with my two friends and we would train in heels together then one day it just clicked!  I was at my government job, my 9-to-5 which I didn’t like, and I was like you know what…why not just do this?  So I was talking with my friends and said hey...I have an idea why don’t we just start a heels company?  And they were both like instantly, yes! Because we were almost pretty much already doing it, just not officially on paper.

And even though we were best friends, and you know what they say about doing business with friends, we did it anyway.  It was just all-natural.

And naming it, we wanted it to be something feminine and open to everyone, to open this style to everybody.  One day I had just read a book randomly, and saw the word lady and was like oh…that speaks to me, and in agreement with my two friends we decided to name it Lady.


How did you feel when deciding to launch your dance company?

I felt with heels, people might like to say…oh my goodness! Their first impression is that it’s so sexy and sexual but there is so much more to it than that. It's a dance style in stilettos yes, but there is a whole technic to it and it's sensual rather than sexual there is an important difference to make here.

In the last piece, we did that had the biggest emotional impact, it was set to slam poetry. We actually made a piece on slam poetry where we mixed and matched different styles. Three people were doing heels, three people were doing afro/dancehall, three people did whacking and three people did krump. We put together different styles featuring people who were known for their unique different styles in Montreal and together made a piece talking about how women are sometimes seen in the world, in some cases not taken seriously, where when to get a job or promotion you had to do favors for your boss...addressing topics like that.

And honestly, we did not expect it to have that much of an impact on the audience. We presented it in the summer of 2022 at the Articien showcase and people to this day still talk to us about this piece. Even for the next contract, which we will have in Quebec City, on March 4th with Reprezent, the producers approached us to do a piece with a similar vision. So for us, it is not only dancing in heels, it is empowering femininity through empowering messaging.

Within Lady what are some of your more popular events and workshops?

Basically, we started by giving drop-in classes once a month on the heels dance style. From the outside, the dance style may look very easy thinking that all you have to do is just put on some heels. But there actually is a whole background of technique that you need to know. It’s not just dancing in heels, there’s a whole mindset with the technique.

From once-a-month classes, we have evolved into offering longer sessions-where people will register for four weeks. Through these sessions, we show choreography, along with the technique, the postures, and how you need to walk. It’s not your typical walk in the park, there are specific lines that you need to have.

We also offer group classes and we offer as well private classes. The private classes are for people who have just started or who are not comfortable being in a group class, where you have the option to go one-on individually with one of us. We also offer semi-privates where two or three friends can come together and learn.

We’ve also developed programs for those getting married offering a workshop for bachelorettes or building choreographies for a wedding. We want people to loosen up and empower themselves while dancing, using techniques on being sensual in self-expression through dance.